Well, it seems like Barack Obama can’t win. No, check that, Democratic frontrunners can’t win. And not because they’re being attacked by Republicans. The elephant men are too busy trying to keep their candidacies afloat, pandering to any constituency that will have them, learning something about foreign policy, or just struggling to stay awake. But they needn’t worry, because, as usual, the Democrats will rip each other apart — with, it turns out, a little help from the loudest progressive voice in the nation.

Paul Krugman, in his most recent column, tries to tear down Barack Obama, who’s surging in Iowa and nationally (polling here and here, among many others). Here’s Krugman’s money quote: “in an important sense, he [Obama] has in effect become the anti-change candidate.”

Let me be clear about one thing. It’s not just Paul Krugman’s right as a journalist and an opinion-maker to state his views; it’s his job. And he’s normally great at that job, a writer of uncommon clarity and occasional brilliance.

But today’s is a lousy piece on several levels. As Matthew Yglesias notes, the column reads like little more than thinly veiled outrage over the Obama campaign’s decision to conduct opposition research on Krugman. That was a bad decision on Obama’s part, I’ll grant you: sleazy, silly, and likely self-defeating. But I don’t think it excuses Krugman’s apparent fit of petulance.

Especially because, on the merits, the column just isn’t true (Yglesias makes this point as well). Hillary is clearly the establishment candidate among the big three. Like her, don’t like her, there’s really no avoiding the fact that, until the past week or so, she’s been running as the electable, frontrunning insider. Edwards, by contrast, has been the populist pitbull. Obama? His campaign has been predicated on the idea of comfortable change. He’s an outsider, a progressive, but also a really nice guy. Things will get better under President Obama, so the argument goes, but the improvements will likely be incremental. And they’ll be accomplished without too much rancor.

As Atrios suggests:

Shorter Candidates

Obama: The system sucks, but I’m so awesome that it’ll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we’re gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

Hat tip to the wonderful folks at Unfogged.

How Krugman gets from that to calling Obama anti-change is beyond me.

And it may be beyond Krugman. My evidence? Again, Krugman is not only wicked smart but a fine writer, not a wordsmith perhaps, but always concise, a master of declarative sentences. But today’s column isn’t particularly well written; the prose smacks of an inchoate argument. Look at the final clause of the above quote for a particularly muddy construction: “in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.” Huh?

All of that said, I still love Krugman (air kiss). But I wish that he’d think twice before unloading on any of the Democratic frontrunners. Especially if what he has to say is wrong. I’m far more comfortable with Josh Marshall’s posture — let the dust settle in the primaries and then support whichever candidate emerges with the nomination.

Oh well, at least Krugman didn’t say that Obama is unelectable (here, and, to be fair, here). That argument really makes my blood boil.

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